The Many Meanings of “Groom” and “Grooming”

A formerly useful and innocuous set of words–groom, groomed, and grooming—has become a trope used primarily to stir anxiety and dread in parents.

People who use words professionally may want to give some thought to taming some of the hysteria that has come to reside around these words.

The noun groom

Until recently, the noun groom denoted a person who looks after horses.

They met at her stable when the groom took his niece, Claire, to riding lessons.

The word probably began as a word for boy or man. The use of groom to denote a man on his wedding day is a shortening of the word bridegroom.

At the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom sipped wine from a shared glass.

The gerund grooming has long referred to the activity of caring for hair or fur.

You can reduce the impact of shedding by grooming your cat daily.

The participle groomed

The past participle, groomed, refers to a tidy appearance and is viewed as a positive social attribute.

The man was described as 18 to 25 years old, well groomed, with dark curly hair.

He is articulate, personable, groomed, passionate, intelligent and a family man.

The verb groom

The verb to groom derives from the activities of a groom, i.e., taking care of a horse.

One of his duties was to help groom and feed the horses that pulled the cannons.

More broadly, the verb means, “to tend or attend to carefully; to give a neat, tidy appearance to.”

Eyebrows are a bit of a thing for me, so much so that my face genuinely looks odd when I don’t groom and powder them.

Grooming was especially important when a horse was scheduled to be in a parade or a show. In time, the verb to groom came to mean, “to get someone ready for a particular role.” An early use in this sense applied to the preparation of a political candidate to run for office.

Grover Cleveland was being groomed for his first Presidential term.

From politics, the word spread to other professions:

The Music School in Montreal grooms pop musicians.

They are grooming freshmen and sophomores to eventually take over behind center.

In extended usage, just about anything can groom itself or be groomed.

For years, the city has groomed itself as a nexus of culture.

The last 10 to 15 minutes of the meeting will be devoted to grooming daylilies.

In 2005, the OED added this sense:

groom (transitive verb): Of an animal: to clean the skin, hair, etc., of; Also reflexive: to clean and tidy itself.

The cat grooms the rabbit, and in the morning and evening they chase each other around the yard.

You must brush to reduce the chances of your cat developing fur balls in her stomach from swallowing the shedding fur that she grooms off herself.

Finally in 2007 comes this usage:

groom (transitive verb): Of a paedophile [US pedophile]; to befriend or influence (a child), now especially via the internet, in preparation for future sexual abuse.

Although this latest definition for groom specifies the preparation of children to accept sexual exploitation, actual usage of the term has expanded to refer to preparing a child not only for some potential immoral behavior, but also for the possibility of acquiring certain opinions regarding a variety of topics.

Public schools grooming kids with critical race theory, ‘sexual chaos,’ and ‘racial confusion’

It seems to me that if groom is intended to refer to the frightful practice of gaining a child’s trust in order to exploit the child sexually, speakers and writers could add a qualifier to the word grooming, the way some British publications do:

In his leaving speech to staff, Harding expressed pride in the paper’s investigations into tax avoidance and child sex grooming. —Independent

If, on the other hand, speakers are objecting not to “sex grooming” but to classroom discussions of controversial subjects, the negative word they may be looking for is indoctrination.

However, what most people mean by “indoctrination” does not permit discussion:

indoctrination: (noun) the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.

As the king says in the musical, when it comes to dealing with new ideas, “Is a puzzlement.”

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1 thought on “The Many Meanings of “Groom” and “Grooming””

  1. It would be nice if “they” would stop stealing normal words for their jargon so that they become unusable in their original, normal sense. This has been going on a long time. It could easily done by using adjectives, as in “child sex grooming” as given, or by simply coming up with another word that carries its own accuracy.

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